When considering what an inspirational teacher looks like, people are often reminded of the role that Robin Williams played in the film ‘Dead Poets Society’; the rebel teacher who went against the rules of the institution, who the students loved, and who apparently got the students to actually think for themselves. However, it also seems to me that this example of a teacher was more of an entertaining one than an inspirational one.
Oxford University has a yearly award for Inspirational Teacher, which is seen as a ‘way of recognising the importance of school or college teachers in encouraging bright students to realise their potential and make a successful application to Oxford’. 1 Obviously, this award and concept of what it is to inspire a student is very specific here. Could it be that an inspiring teacher is one that supports the students to go further in their education and to be a high achiever? If this is considered as being a success, as it is by many, then it may be so.
Tony McAleavy describes in his article ‘What makes an inspiring teacher’, 2 how a research project was carried out to identify the common traits that inspiring teachers have. These teachers were selected by their Heads as the teachers most likely to come out as ‘Outstanding’ during an inspection from the Government’s Educational Standards Office - although it could be questioned as to whether being titled as ‘Outstanding’ by the government is actually synonymous with being inspirational . . .
The common traits of these ‘Outstanding’ teachers were identified in how they conducted their classes through observations, in what they thought of their profession and by what their students thought of them. When reading this article, what stands out is that being selected as an inspirational teacher in this research project, has many parallels to when teachers select one of the students in the class as being ‘Best Pupil’. It carries the notion that being inspirational is something to strive for, as opposed to a quality that is accessible or even innate in all teachers, simply by the fact that they have chosen to be a teacher. And looking at the selection of books out there, which give tips and instruction on how to be inspirational, there are many others who feel that this is something that needs to be studied.
Considering that the norm in life nowadays is to be exhausted, despite peoples’ level of education or job profile, it is more common to not love work and see it as a means to an end, to have some kind of mental and/or physical health problem, to have some level of problems or issues with family members and to constantly be looking for a way to escape life or be entertained and distracted. I feel that a truly inspirational teacher would inspire me to live in a way that didn’t include any or all of the above. Such a teacher would inspire me to live in way that brought joy to my life no matter what I was doing, and they would inspire me to be able to hold others in the same loving regard that I would hold myself.
You may think that this could be an impossible task, and I certainly agree that an easy one it is not. However, as one inspires another through their movements, the way they go about life and the quality they hold themselves and others in, then surely inspiration is always on offer from the life that one lives. For example, if someone who drinks alcohol was trying to inspire others to give it up, like we so often see with our doctors, then there can’t possibly be true inspiration there. However, a person who has never drunk alcohol or who has previously given it up, would be much more of an inspiration to those who choose to be inspired.
Equally, when a teacher understands the responsibility they hold in what has just been presented, they also understand that how they live, treat others and take care of themselves, in and out of school, is constantly being reflected to their students. Therefore, if this is actually the case, inspiring our students is far more than how we conduct our classes and treat our students, for it also comes from the experiences and quality that we, as teachers, hold in our bodies from what we live every moment day-in day-out.